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Huth v. Director, Ohio Department of Job & Family Services

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Tuscarawas

June 12, 2017

IRVIN W. HUTH Appellant
v.
DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF JOB AND FAMILY SERVICES, ET AL Appellee

         Civil appeal from the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2015 AA 12 0737

          For Appellant MICHELA HUTH

          For Appellee SUSAN SHEFFIELD

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. John W. Wise, J. Hon. Earle E. Wise, J.

          OPINION

          Gwin, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant appeals the November 10, 2016 judgment entry of the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas. Appellee is the Director, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services ("ODJFS").

         Facts & Procedural History

         {¶2} Appellant Irvin Huth was a Zoning Inspector and Assistant to the Board of Trustees in Lawrence Township. Appellant's last day as a Lawrence Township employee was December 31, 2012. Appellant filed an application for benefits with the Office of Unemployment Compensation which was denied because the Commission found appellant quit without just cause. After appellant filed an administrative appeal, the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas affirmed the decision of the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission ("Commission") finding appellant quit without just cause and was not entitled to unemployment compensation benefits.

         {¶3} Appellant appealed the trial court's decision to this Court. In Huth v. Director, Ohio Dept. of Job and Family Services, 5th Dist. Tuscarawas No. 2014 AP 03 0011, 2014-Ohio-5408, we found the Commission's decision that appellant did not have just cause to leave his employment was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

         {¶4} Pursuant to the remand order, the Office of Unemployment Compensation issued a determination allowing appellant's application for unemployment compensation benefits, setting the weekly payment amount, and charging the employer's account. Further, on March 9, 2015, the Office of Unemployment Compensation issued a determination of unemployment compensation benefits finding appellant failed to timely file claims pursuant to R.C. 4141.29(A)(4) and OAC 4141-27-05 and failed to meet the active search for work requirement of R.C. 4141.29(A)(4). Thus, appellant was not eligible to receive benefits from February 24, 2013 through December 28, 2013.

         {¶5} Appellant appealed the determinations issued on March 9, 2015. On April 15, 2015, the Office of Unemployment Compensation issued a Director's Redetermination that affirmed the initial March 9, 2015 determinations. Appellant appealed the Director's Redetermination. On July 22, 2015, the Director issued another Redetermination that affirmed the initial decision.

         {¶6} Appellant appealed the July 22, 2015 redetermination. On August 7, 2015, appellant's file was transferred to the Commission. After being scheduled for a hearing in August of 2015, the case was reassigned to a later date to address a subpoena request made by counsel for appellant.

         {¶7} A hearing was held in front of the hearing officer on September 23, 2015. Appellant testified that he attempted to file weekly claims between February 24, 2013 and December 28, 2013 through the ODJFS website. However, after March 7, 2013, appellant was able to log into the website, but when he tried to file his weekly claims, a notice stated "no weekly claims can currently be filed." Appellant stated he tried multiple times to file weekly claims online, but did not contact ODJFS via telephone. Appellant testified he did not call ODJFS because, "given the notice that I received saying that jurisdiction, I believe it was March 20, jurisdiction had been transferred from Jobs and Family Services to the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission that Job and Family Services no longer was interested in my weekly claims." Further, that when the online system said he could not file weekly claims, there was no instruction on the screen to call ODJFS.

         {¶8} Appellant testified he sought suitable work every week, was able to work in 2013 and 2014, and kept track of his job search on a spreadsheet on his personal computer. However, he could not access this information since his computer crashed.

         {¶9} Appellant confirmed he received a copy of Exhibit 1, the Worker's Compensation Guide to Unemployment Compensation and read the portion stating he should contact ODJFS if he had trouble. Appellant further stated he received the New Claim Instruction Sheet marked as Exhibit 2. Appellant testified he understood he had to meet eligibility requirements to get unemployment benefits. However, appellant stated his "understanding, based upon what actually happened, that I was no longer able to enter into the system that because jurisdiction had been transferred that the requirement no longer applied. " Further, that he "did not make that assumption, uh, on my own, I made it based upon the fact that the circumstances no longer allowed me, but I did still try."

         {¶10} Douglas Hopper ("Hopper"), the Chief of Technical Services at the Commission, testified appellant last filed a claim via the self-serve online system on March 7, 2013, for the week ending in February 23, 2013. Appellant next made a weekly claim on February 27, 2015, when he called the ODJFS number. Once appellant stopped filing claims for a period of three consecutive weeks, a break in claim occurred. Such a break in claim occurred on March 24, 2013, because it had been more than twenty-one days since the last weekly claim was filed.

         {¶11} Hopper testified that if appellant was filing weekly claims and everything was fine, he does not believe an error message should have appeared on the screen. Hopper does not know why the error message appeared when appellant tried to file his claims online. Thus, for the first three weeks after March 7, 2013, appellant should have been able to file claims online via the self-service system. However, after those three weeks, appellant could not have filed weekly claims online due to the break in claim. Appellant would have had to reopen his claim, which he could have done by contacting an agent for a continued claim or by filing a new application online.

         {¶12} When asked how appellant would have known to contact an agent, Hopper cited Exhibit 1, the Worker's Compensation Guide, and Exhibit 2, the New Claimant Instruction Sheet. Hopper testified that nothing on the online screen specifically told appellant to go back to the worker's guide or the instruction sheet, or to call the department. Further, that neither the guide nor the instruction sheet specifically provided what to do if the screen says "no weekly claim can be filed, " but that both the guide and instruction sheet tell the claimant if they have any trouble submitting a claim, they should contact ODJFS. Hopper stated appellant would have known he needed assistance because he was not able to claim the weeks he thought he was supposed to be claiming.

         {¶13} Hopper testified if appellant would have called, the agent would have taken the weekly claim like they did when he called in 2015. Hopper stated a claimant can file weekly claims online or with an agent. If a claimant is unable to file online, the option is to pick up the phone and call the number provided in the instruction sheet and worker's guide. Hopper stated appellant called in 2015 to inquire about why his benefits were not paid. Appellee's Exhibit 5 consists of the notes made by the agent during appellant's call, which provided, "Claimant states he tried to file weeks after claim was denied, system would not allow him. Claimant states he did not contact agency for assistance." The notes also provide, "Clmt. states he did seek work, used spreadsheet, computer kept crashing, does not have any of the information. Did not have any job contacts available, also never contacted agency in 2013 to file weeks."

         {¶14} Kay Huth, appellant's spouse, testified appellant sought employment in 2013 and 2014 and kept track of his job search in a spreadsheet on ...


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